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Posted on: Saturday, 21 November 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Wikipedia defines Lorem ipsum in a website design proposal as - generally incomprehensible placeholder text allows viewers to focus on the visual elements, rather than the content.

Lipsum - the online Lorem Ipsum generator is bullish about the Lorem Ipsum history and future:

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged.

It was popularized in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

To be honest; Lipsum has a genuine reason to be bullish about Lorem Ipsum.

Graphic designers around the world have loved Lorem Ipsum for more then one generation.

Even today; I see countless graphic designers designing their site-layout using Lorem Ipsum; sending the designs out for review and then replacing them with real content as the project moves ahead.

Most graphic designers love Lorem Ipsum because it keeps them from having to work with those nasty business guys who are way too lazy to think about or give them genuine content upfront. Lorem Ipsum also shields the designers from those pesky programmers who make them fix their nasty HTMLs every time the designers try to work hand-in-hand with them.

The business folks love it because it allows them to walk up to a creative designer and say - 'I want a marketing website' - without having to worry about giving them any content or specifics before they start designing the website.

The programmers love it; because they can now develop their system without having to worry about synchronizing their development with the pretty-looking-screens.

Throw in a few stock photos; make pretty boxes; fill them up with Lorem Ipsum; and you are good to go. Life; for a designer; was never so beautiful before Lorem Ipsum showed up.

Put simply; at the end of the day; programmers love building ugly systems; graphic designers love building pretty boxes and business users love telling both programmers and graphic designers what they should do without feeling the need to take any real responsibility of the content or the message upfront. Lorem ipsum is a universal glue that makes this entire ecosystem function and makes all this possible. No wonder; we all love Lorem Ipsum.

Jason Fried at 37Signals however; has the courage to walk a different path and say no to Lorem Ipsum. He advices developers and designers to consider Lorem Ipsum their enemy; not their friend. He explains:

Lorem ipsum dolor has long been known as the designer’s best friend. We think it should be your enemy. Using lorem ipsum dolor reduces text-based content to a visual design element (a “shape” of text) instead of valuable information someone is going to have to enter and/or read.

We recommend that when you build out interfaces you use real and relevant words not “lorem ipsum” representative text. If your site or application requires data input, enter real and relevant words and type the text, don’t just paste it in from another source. If it’s a name, type a real name. If it’s a city, type a real city. If it’s a password, and it’s repeated twice, type it twice.

The goal here is to get as close to the real customer experience as possible. Don’t abstract yourself from the real experience. Every layer removed pushes you further and further away from the actual customer experience.

Ben Hunt in his book; Save the Pixel; explains the same thing from the perspective of a veteran experienced web designer. He explains:

Design the content, not the box it comes in.

Use your pixels on things that communicate meaning. It used to be very common for web designers to make just templates – attractive or jazzy  containers which would have “content” added at a later time.

This is a fundamentally wrong approach, because it doesn't fulfill the designer's mission - facilitating communication. If you find yourself decorating the package, rather than crafting real, meaningful content, stop & ask: “Are these pixels best used here?”

You want the visitor to focus on the navigation & content as that's where the signposts are that point to the goals.

When you are designing the layout of a website; it is easy for you to get consumed by just the layout and not even think about the content or what the design is trying to communicate in the first place. Ben describes this concept rather articulately in his book - Save The Pixel. In his book he explains:

Design isn't Art. It's not about creating beautiful or thought-provoking things for the sake of it. Design is a discipline – creating communication with a purpose.

So the next time you head out to a Lorem Ipsum generator; try spending some more time on your content or your system and try to figure out the message that your application or website is trying to convey using your design. If you don't have a strong message your pretty boxes will not mean a thing.

Now; go think of a concrete message and decent amount of content or the system before you even open Photoshop.

This dear reader; is your chance to designing something meaningful.

Don't build pretty boxes with Lorem ipsum. Let your design be a part of your communication; what you want to say and what it is that you stand for.

I wish you good luck.